Bale could be the key for Real against Barcelona

The visitors regard themselves as the greatest football club in the world, the host are, in their own words, “mes que un club”, more than a club. Humbleness and humility are at a premium when Barcelona and Real Madrid square up to one another.

Considering the effort both clubs put into being considered their arch enemy’s antithesis, there are similarities aplenty between the two teams ahead of the first Clasico of the season.

In Gerardo Martino and Carlo Ancelotti both sides have a new manager in charge, both custodians of different tactical beliefs than their predecessors and both tasked with one job and one job only – winning.

To do so, both men have seen their clubs plunge aggressively into the transfer window last summer, with Barcelona securing Neymar, while Real Madrid splashed £86m to make Gareth Bale the world’s most expensive player.

The similarities don’t end here, for both players have endured a tricky start to their careers in Spain, with Bale’s fitness problems hampering the Welshman in his first five weeks in Madrid, while despite scoring two and assisting six, Neymar is still to make the impact he was expected to have.

The price-tags has so far being a burden for both players, particularly for the former Spurs man who, in the words of Barca legend Johan Cruyiff “is never going to be judged using normal parameters [because of the £86m Real paid for him].”

Bale, however, could play a crucial part in Real Madrid’s quest to to win three successive Clasicos in all competitions for the first time since 1979.

Having returned for a 25-minute cameo against Juventus in the Champions League on Wednesday, the Welshman is expected to make only his second start for the Merengues, since joining in the summer.

With Cristiano Ronaldo likely to move inside with Karim Benzema dropped to bench, Bale could exploit Barcelona’s penchant for leaving space behind their full-backs, even though the Catalans boast the league’s best defensive record, having conceded only six times in nine games.

Carlo Ancelotti has declared himself happy with Bale’s involvement so far and the Italian’s presence on the touchline should guarantee a more relaxed atmosphere than in the last couple of seasons, when the Clasicos had become to resemble a personal affair between Jose Mourinho and whoever sat in Barcelona’s dugout.

Madrid’s hierarchy might not miss Mourinho, but after losing his first Clasico 5-0, the Portugese won five and drew six of next 16 meetings with the old enemy, while his former team have found the net in every game played at the Camp Nou since the 5-0 demolition.

Perhaps for the first time since joining Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo, who has netted eight times in Madrid’s last six visits at the Camp Nou, might not be the centre of attention going into a clash against Barcelona, given the attention media are likely to dedicate to Gareth Bale.

On the other side of the fence, meanwhile, Ronaldo’s nemesis remains the household name at Barcelona, regardless of Neymar’s arrival.

Lionel Messi’s goal against AC Milan on Wednesday put him in second place among the all-time Champions League top scorers and, should he score tomorrow, he’d become the all-time top scorer in El Clasico history, overtaking Alfredo Di Stefano’s tally of 18 goals.

Neither side have been at their best, with Real struggling in the league, while Barcelona fatigued to get past 10-man Celtic and could only draw against Milan, but could six points clear by winning tomorrow.

Barca, however, will be worried by the impact British players can have in their first Clasico.

In 2000, Steve McManaman came on as a substitute in his first clash against Barcelona – which Real won 3-0 – before scoring against the Blaugrana in the Champions League semifinal, while David Beckham was instrumental as Real secured their first win at the Camp Nou in 20 years in 2003 and Michael Owen scored in his second Clasico two years later.

Should Bale emulate one of his illustrious predecessors, nobody would worry about his troublesome back in the Spanish capital come tomorrow night.

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